CANADA POLITICS Seed sales tax works against lower carbon footprint, experts...

Seed sales tax works against lower carbon footprint, experts and home growers say


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Nicola Moore says it was the pandemic that sparked her interest in growing food.

“All my life my parents had a garden,” she said. “I never put two and two together until I had my own family. And then when we got through the pandemic, I think it was 2020, I got scared and didn’t know how I was going to feed my family for breakfast. , lunch and dinner every day.

“And, you know, there were long lines at the grocery stores and I just wasn’t sure about it. So I thought, how can I help my family? And that was learning to grow your own food.”

Moore grows beets, beans, carrots, cucumbers, peas, radishes, lettuce, onions, peppers and tomatoes both at home in Hamilton, Ontario and on a nearby property.

“It’s been two years of constant learning, gardening, research, and now my next level is canning and canning for the winter.”

Moore says the savings are significant. But they’re also smaller than they could be because both the seeds and seedlings she buys to plant in her garden are subject to provincial and federal sales taxes, while products grown from the same seeds can be imported. to Canada or delivered by trucks to cities in Canada. long distances, no.

“When you look at our recent statistics, it seems that the level of horticulture in Canada is always high,” said Sylvain Charlebois, scientific director of the Agri-Food Analytics Laboratory at Dalhousie University.

“People want to grow more food for a variety of reasons. One of them is to be proud of the products they grow. They want to do more for themselves. They want the best quality. They want to reduce the carbon footprint of our food systems. many, many citizens actually also want to grow food to save money.”

The tax system works against them, Charlebois said, because while lettuce imported from California and sold in a supermarket is not subject to sales tax, young lettuce grown in Canada for planting in a home garden is taxed.

Canada’s carbon tax may not be popular in all quarters, but it punishes those with a larger carbon footprint and rewards behaviors that reduce it.

But Canada’s food sales tax regime does the opposite, offering tax credits to those with a larger footprint and taxing those who reduce it, creating what economists call a “perverse stimulus” that works in the opposite direction of an emissions tax. carbon.

depending on trucks

Canada is heavily dependent on fruits and vegetables imported from outside the country, at significant environmental costs.

“The carbon footprint is quite significant,” Charlebois said. “This is how we feed ourselves. We bring things.

Canada’s climate makes it hard to replace all the food coming from places like California and Mexico, but Charlebois says experienced growers can time planting and harvesting so that different foods ripen at different times in spring, summer and fall.

“When I go into my garden and plant seeds, there is no carbon footprint,” Moore said. “Imagine a truck, or trucks, or a fleet going from California to Ontario.”

Most Canadians rely on supermarkets and grocery stores all year round. Even during the summer months, when most of the production comes from Canada, it still comes from commercial growers using fertilizers that release a lot of nitrous oxide. Agriculture accounts for about one tenth of Canada’s total emissionsand most food is transported long distances.

Researches show that food consumed in North America travels an average of more than 1,500 km before reaching the dinner plate.

Food inflation, shorter shelf life

Recent supply chain issues have seen fruit and vegetable prices rise by about 10% a year, three times faster than hourly wage growth. Supply chain delays have also contributed to the lesser-known “shelving” phenomenon.

“A lot of the food that goes into the grocery store isn’t as fresh as it used to be,” Charlebois said. “You will buy onions, carrots and tomatoes that are a little softer than usual. And instead of seven days to eat certain foods, you only have two days. away.”

“This has been happening more frequently since the start of COVID-19 due to labor issues, COVID restrictions and the like. It takes more time to move something across water or land, and that results in more waste.”

As a gardener who grows plants specifically for seed, Katherine Wallenburg has noticed a growing interest in gardening.

Katherine Wallenburg, a grower who grows plants specifically for seed, demonstrates a sample of her produce, which is subject to sales tax in Canada. “When I started the retail business and learned how the product worked, I was very surprised to find out it was a taxable product,” she said. (SHS)

In her greenhouse in Farrellton, Quebec, she passes the seeds of lettuce, cabbage and other plants, then winnows and cleans them for sale under her Northern Seeds label.

“When I started the retail business and learned how the product worked, I was very surprised to find out that it was a taxable product. I think it just goes to show that growing food is considered a hobby. because the same product, once grown, will not be taxed.”

At least one province, British Columbia, does not tax either seeds or plants.

The federal government has eliminated the sales tax on both feminine hygiene products and face masks in recent years, but says it has no plans to change the food tax regime.

high threshold

“Farmers do not pay tax on goods and services on a list of certain basic commodities used in their agricultural activities, including bulk purchases of seeds used for food production,” Adrienne Vaupsas of the Treasury Department told CBC News.

The federal seed tax exempts only farmers who buy seeds. commercial quantities (at least 2500 small seeds such as lettuce or 5 kg of larger seeds such as beans or corn). “That’s a pretty high bar,” Wallenburg says. “Even some people who are producers, such as gardeners, do not reach this threshold. So they may end up paying taxes on seeds.”

Gardeners can reclaim these taxes at the end of the year, but Wallenburg customers cannot.

“It’s a pity there’s no incentive to grow and eat more local produce, and there really isn’t anything more local than straight from your garden.”

Lots of reasons to grow

Moore says he grows food for reasons that go beyond cost.

“I feel like getting your kids involved in the process is a great way to teach them how your food actually grows from seed. Many of our children will go to the grocery store today, they will take an apple or a peach. and they have no idea it came from a tree.”

Wallenburg says her customers have similar motivations: “Because it’s delicious, because it saves you money, because it’s fun to do outside with the kids.”

A tax system that discriminates against home producers is unlikely to change the equation for most, but Charlebois says the system could go beyond just fixing injustice and actually encourage people to do things that are good for the environment, their health, and even the food supply. national security and trade balance.

“From a fiscal policy standpoint, I’m not sure we’ve done a good job of making sure there’s some coherence across the board here.”

“The fascination of recent years has been to use taxes to prevent behavior, but we never really thought of taxation as a tool to allow citizens to do certain things that are desirable, like grow food, like actually produce more food at home. “

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